Three-hundred-year anniversaries are rare in a nation just approaching its own 200th birthday, so America’s Seventh Day Baptists really had something to shout about at their tricentennial celebration last month on the University of Massachusetts campus at Amherst.
The birthday party was largely a family vacation affair for the 500 who gathered at the 159th annual SDB General Conference to relive their denomination’s founding in 1671 and trace their subsequent history.
Many of the 5,300 SDBs are one big family, with recurring last names and shared ancestry. The sixty-six churches across the country are concentrated in the northeast.
Historical plays, vignettes, dialogues, and lectures took the place of the usual inspirational and devotional meetings, though time was allowed for denominational housekeeping.
For many, the high point of the week was a pilgrimage to Newport, where the second SDB meetinghouse, built in 1729, still stands. In the small white sanctuary adorned only by two tablets of the Ten Commandments, young men in white wigs and knickers and young women in bonnets and heirloom dresses reenacted their forebears’ separation from Newport, Rhode Island, Baptists over the issue of the Sabbath. Other scenes dramatized the role of SDBs in the founding of Brown University and in the American Revolution.
For a small denomination with a unique doctrinal stance, the SDBs have been remarkably active in ecumenical affairs. The group is a charter member of the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, and the Baptist World Alliance. One SDB leader, the Reverend Alton Wheeler, is on the 120-member WCC Central Committee, and he is a vice-president at large of the NCC, where eight fellow SDBs are part of the General ...1
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